[Eulogy at the funeral of iconic steelband leader, researcher and ambassador, Nestor Sullivan delivered by Andre Moses, his long-time friend and steelband co-conspirator]
In an original, the pieces of the puzzle may often seem contrasting and fit themselves together in unique ways. Nestor Sullivan was a rebel, a make-it-happen-man, a revolutionary and a ‘limer,’ a man of impatience and patience, a mentor whose example was powerful and inspiring, and yet reflective of his human frailties and his own journey of self-discovery. He was at the same time a leader and a team player, a man whose passion combined, selfish and selfless purpose, with a love that he could only express in his own way. Our brother Nestor was by any definition an original and we are all extremely privileged to have known him.
Nestor Clement Sullivan was the 7th of nine children born to Victor and Uthilma, four girls and five boys. Before him there was his eldest sister Bunny (now deceased) then Teddy, another sister Hilary, two brothers Elwyn and Russel, and another sister Gail. The last three Nestor, Gillian and Malcolm are now all sadly deceased.
His sister Gail describes a young Nestor as a bit of a rebel, with a tendency to get into sibling battles, mainly because, he wanted to do what he wanted to do. She recalled their mother Uthilma, in tears when the common entrance results were released and Nestor had passed for St. Mary’s College, because studying was not a priority amongst the things a young Nestor willing and or wanted to do. In time though, his curiosity made studying something that came naturally, but more of that later.
Marriage, his wife Janice, and the birth of his only son Chike bought stability to Nestor’s whirlwind lifestyle. A home and a family that was uniquely his and without which he would have been incomplete and about which he often spoke with love, pride, and satisfaction. Towards the end, Nestor’s short-term memory was decreasing, but I suspect the pride with which he repeatedly, announced and celebrated, the birth of his grandson Imari came from a deeper place.
I met Nestor, aka Solos or Sully at St. Mary’s College in the late 1960’s. I was a few years ahead of him, but we were part of a CIC posse from the East, some of whom like Gerry Kangalee, Eden Charles, and Dennis Phillip are here today. Gregory Aboud, another St Mary’s College man, relates an anecdote in which he was doing duty between the uprights for CIC’s 2nd Eleven Football team. By his own admission and recollection, he was not having the best of days and the ball ended up in the net, when perhaps it should not have. Whilst still on the field, his teammates concocted a plan to express their displeasure with that circumstance by employing some targeted after-the-game physicality. Nestor however intervened before the concocted plans materialised, and the longstanding partnership between Pamberi and Jimmy Aboud Ltd., Gregory Aboud is fond of laughingly and tongue-in-cheek affirming - is all a part of the ‘big payback’ for Nestor’s timely intervention on his behalf.
Nestor’s sense of fair play would spawn many other interventions ‘on behalf of’; whether it was playing a leading role in Pan Trinbago’s historic Panorama Boycott of 1979, when he was a Pan Trinbago Executive still in his early twenties, or it involved defending workers’ rights by supporting friends and band members at various strike camps in and around the San Juan area.
Nestor also ritually attended June the 19th Labour Day celebrations in Fyzabad, at which event Pamberi also performed on occasion. As fate would have it, Labour Day would eventually come to the Pamberi panyard, when Pamberi, in 2018, hosted the first of what was to become a much-anticipated panyard production. Captioned Labour & Steel, it is held on the day before the Labour Day public holiday and its intent is to celebrate the Pamberi steelband as a community organization in the San Juan area. In previous editions the ‘Steel’ component has been well projected with some memorable steelband jamborees featuring the nation’s top steelbands. For Labour & Steel IV, however, in addition to the steelband component, Pamberi will put focus on the Labour component by celebrating the totality and complexities of Nestor Sullivan’s contribution to the steelband movement, locally, regionally and internationally. So stay tuned, we have to talk and put things in place for Labour & Steel IV, dedicated to our brother Nestor.
Pamberi has always been very informal in its structure. Informal meetings which we call ‘pull-ins’ could happen at any time and in any space, after which things could immediately start to happen. Nestor was the quintessential make-it-happen-man: the one, like the tailor in Nelson’s Liar, Liar calypso who only had to see the corner where de man pass to make him a suit. In Nestor’s case, he only had to grasp the broad outline of the plan and he was ready to hit the ground running to transform plans into reality.
Sully was an impatient man. If he told you to meet him in the panyard for 7 in the morning to go on a mission and you happened to be running late, by 7.05 Sully would be calling your phone - Where You? But by the end of the day, you could bet your bottom dollar, Sully would have things in a gear and be ready to report on developments that quite often went beyond the original scope of the day’s action plan.
As in all organizational matters, achievement is always the result of joint enterprise involving many players, but so many Pamberi projects began in Nestor’s head, followed by the proverbial pull-in and then with Nestor on the prowl interfacing with this one and that one to make things happen. I can think of Pamberi’s 40-odd international tours and of the many initiatives that transformed an unlighted, unpaved, underdeveloped piece of real estate at 11A Santa Cruz Old Road, into a modern panyard complex, with rehearsal and administrative areas, an Art Studio, a multipurpose hall, bar and cafeteria facilities, paved covered and uncovered courtyard spaces and dormitory accommodation, and I know it could not all have happened without Sully’s foresight, energy and persistence.
Pan Trinbago execs: Richard Forteau, second from Arnim Smith - Keith Diaz is at tight
Between 1980 and 1985, Nestor, Mitchum Cunningham and myself of Pamberi served on the Pan Trinbago Central Executive under the presidency of the late Arnim Smith. Dennis Phillip and Keith Castor from birdsong, Anthony ‘Abdul’ Reid and Eden ‘Charlo’ Charles from Scherzando, and Clifton Greene of West Stars were also a part of that team, as was Eddie Hart Selwyn Tarradath, the late Patrick Hamilton and Richard Forteau.
Two of our big projects were connected to documenting the story of the evolution of the steelband. The first was to mount a pictorial exhibition that reflected the highlights of the steelband’s evolutionary journey and the other was to stage a show, ‘Pan Through the Eyes of the Calypsonian’ that would use the lyrics of calypsos to trace and chronicle that same evolutionary story.
Steelband historian the late Teddy Belgrave, one of Nestor’s mentors and his close friend, provided a schematic with the different periods and the main highlights of each period. Nestor Sullivan, the same impatient Nestor who would call you five times to find out where you were, that same Nestor spent hour after hour, day after day perusing the National Library archives, wading through countless old newspapers, to find pictures and clippings that could bring to life the steelband story from the real life experiences of those who had been directly involved. So much for the young Nestor who didn’t like to study. Pa Vic and Uthilma would have been both surprised and so proud and Uthilma might, once again, have shed a happy tear for her rebellious 7th child.
In his steelband research, names like Carlton ‘Zigilee’ Constantine, Philmore ‘Boots’ Davidson and Sterling Betancourt were just names attached to impactful stories that fascinated a young Nestor still in his twenties. But later on he would meet them in person and came to consider them as his personal friends. That was another thing about Nestor, you could meet him in January and by February/March you had the impression that you and him go way back and not just a mere few months. And so over time, a slew of steelband icons like Bertie Marshal, Bertram ‘Birch’ Kelman, Earl Rodney, Ray Holman, Boogsie Sharpe, Andy Narell and Othello Mollineaux all came to also consider Nestor as their personal friend.
London over the years became Sully’s second home. We used to tease him that he would hop a plane to London just as easily as he would hop a maxi taxi to city gate. And it was not that Sully had real ‘bank’, far from it. When no-pay leave from teaching was incompatible with Pamberi’s yearly tour schedule, Nestor opted for no-pay full time, employment with his various steelband pursuits, over his paid employment as a teacher. Fortunately, his sister Gillian could furnish him with ‘free tickets’ as a family member as part of the perks of her job at Air Canada and that’s all Sully required. His real ‘blood’ and boyhood and Pamberi co-conspirator, Jeffrey ‘Bakeman’ Simon is the proprietor of the iconic West Indian food restaurant Uptown Cuisine in London, so de boy could never starve inna London town. From there he would traverse Europe, accommodated by his network of steelband ‘best friends’, picking up fees and stipends for lectures, that Nestor would no doubt have willingly have given for free.
Sully was good with the ‘yutes’ too. Unlike in so many steelbands where steelband elders hold on jealously and zealously for too long, Nestor embraced the next generation of Pamberi leadership and encouraged and facilitated their transition into leadership roles. Powers, Brian, Cheo, Ruel, Bumbles, Papi, Reon, Charlie, Jesse, Andrea, Jammeal and Derick have accepted the baton, and André White too, though not a Pamberi member is a part of the Pamberi family. Sully was also a dedicated yard crew man and men like - Lines, K, Standley, Boyie, Blacks, and honorary Pamberians, like John James and Eden Charles - spent many hours sharing a plate, a card game or some other panyard past time.
It was precisely because Sully was confident that Pamberi succession leadership was in place that he felt free to explore broader steelband parameters that went beyond Pamberi per se. Touring with Pamberi and interacting with and getting to know so many global steelband personalities in a personal way gave Nestor a unique perspective. It expanded his curiosity beyond a deep interest in the steelband’s past, to a passionate preoccupation with its future. He developed an analysis on the evolution of the steelband’s global footprint, not merely from a historical perspective but as a roadmap for its continued global penetration. His Master’s thesis at the University of Trinidad and Tobago focussed on these issues and he lectured on the self-same topic both locally and internationally.
In the period leading up to his passing, his primary focus was on what he described as the development of the steelband movement’s human capital here at home. The development of skills and cutting edge technologies, as well as succession planning, should not according to Nestor, be either automatic or left to chance. Wearing his teacher hat, Nestor was convinced that training in steelband administration, the development of institutionalized manufacturing capacity, as well as leadership training were curriculum matters that had to be conceptualised and disseminated within some sort of structured educational framework.
All of the above retooling and capacity building, Nestor thought, would be a necessary prerequisite for the steelband’s penetration into virgin areas like South and Central America, areas outside of the traditional North/South migration and trading axes, but importantly, areas with which the Caribbean shares synergistic historical and cultural commonalities, as was so eloquently illustrated in David Rudder’s Bahia Girl documentary filmed in Brazil.
More members of PSCC - from left: Nestor Sullivan, Ron Perryman, Pat Adams, Andre Moses
It was therefore that broad perspective that Nestor bought to his various steelband interventions. Don’t worry I am winding up, because after all, this is a eulogy and not a conference, but I know Sully would be vex with me if I neglected on his behalf, to share with you his most current passions and what informed them. In June we will have much more to talk about and to discuss. We have not touched his teaching career, Pan in Schools (PSCC), his work as a manager of the National Steelband or as a Project Coordinator attached to the Ministry of Culture. Nor have we dealt with his involvement in the Caribbean Steelband movement, or the expansion of the steelband in Europe and Japan, or his many articles and position papers and we have only briefly referenced the Pamberi story and his Pan Trinbago involvement. But all in due course and in the correct forum.
As we bid Nestor farewell, for Pamberi our loss is defined in more simple terms, we will miss our perennial best man, godfather, master of ceremonies, enforcer, mentor, ideas man, energiser, liming partner and most of all our loyal friend. His wife, son, brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces and grandson will miss more personal interactions that they uniquely share with Nestor. Everyone will miss Nestor in their own special way.
And so all that remains to be said is Farewell Nestor, our brother, you are an original in so many ways and we feel blessed to have known you and to be numbered amongst your friends and co-conspirators. I know for a fact that despite the trauma of your illness and the contemplation your own impending mortality, you were fortified and comforted by the certainty that those who you have inspired, laboured with in the vineyards, and mentored, stand ready, eager and willing to keep your energy flowing. Nestor rest easy our brother, ‘yuh done kno’ that though, physically you may have made your exit, we will always carry your spirit in our hearts and in our actions going forward..
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